Uber Testing Out New Pilot Program in Select Cities

If you’ve been driving for a while, you’ve probably realized that there’s a lot of demand in city centers. Whether you’re shuttling commuters or downtown partygoers, most drivers can find reliable earnings just by heading downtown.

On March 6, Uber will be piloting a new city center program that will increase rates in city centers in ten US cities. But at the same time, Uber will also decrease rates in the suburbs. So some good and bad news for sure.

We’ll outline this new Uber pilot below and how you can maximize your earnings if you’re a driver in one of these cities.

Quick tips:

  • If you drive in the city center, you’ll get a 5% boost to your earnings
  • If you drive outside of your city center, you’ll face a 10% decrease in earnings
  • Head to your city center and know its busy times!

City Center Boost to Earnings for Drivers

Uber’s statement on this new pilot program rolling out on March 6:

“We are testing raising prices near city centers, where it’s busier and harder to get a ride, while decreasing prices in surrounding areas — including in neighborhoods with fewer transportation options  — to help riders request more trips. The goal of this pilot is to improve reliability in the busiest parts of these cities, while making it more affordable to use Uber outside the city center.”  

Uber will raise the per mile and per minute rates by around 5% when you pick up a ride in the city center. Uber will provide drivers a map that outlines which areas are considered ‘city center’ in your city.

Phoenix ‘city center’ map
Phoenix ‘city center’ map

Even if you’re dropping off your passenger outside of the city center, because the ride started in the city center, you will still see a 5% boost to your earnings.

This program will roll out slowly to drivers in the following 10 US cities, so if it is rolling out in your city on March 6 but you don’t see it right away, just be patient – it will roll out to every driver in these cities eventually.

  • Charlotte
  • Phoenix
  • Kansas City
  • Indianapolis
  • Honolulu
  • Cleveland
  • Charleston
  • Richmond
  • Nashville
  • Grand Rapids

Outside the City Center

The news gets worse for rides outside the city center – Uber will be dropping rates for time and distance by 10%. Good news for passengers in the suburbs because their rides will be cheaper but bad news for drivers because they’ll get paid less for those rides.

city center

Our Take


This is an interesting move by Uber as it is effectively saying, we need more drivers in the city center and less out in the suburbs. Uber’s been making a lot of changes in response to AB5 in California, but there are no California cities on the list.

Of course, higher rates in city centers is great, but I’m not sure ‘surge’ is the right term here. A 5% increase is like a 1.05x surge which doesn’t actually exist since the minimum surge is 1.1x and the minimum surge to make a driver care is probably higher than that 🙂

But since most rides happen downtown, this is a slight raise for drivers since most of the rides you do already are probably downtown or in city centers. I’ll be curious to see how this plays out – let us know in the comments below whether you think this is a rate increase or rate decrease for affected drivers.

On one hand, as Jay mentions in the video above, a lot of this pilot program depends on what Uber considers your ‘city center.’ If your city center is relatively small and doesn’t encompass many highways, then yes, this might turn out to be a pay cut for you. Additionally, if you spend a lot of your time in the suburbs, this would be a pay cut too.

However, as a former Phoenix driver, I have to say that ‘Phoenix’ map is very generous. Fellow Phoenix drivers, look at that! The 51 and the 17 (freeways) are both covered, plus almost all of Scottsdale and Tempe? Plus almost all of downtown Phoenix and what looks to be north to Bell Road? And I can’t quite tell from the map, but it looks like it might cover the part of Glendale that actually sees action (i.e. the stadium).

If I were driving in Phoenix again, I wouldn’t be too disappointed by this map. It gives you lots of opportunities to hop on the freeways for faster rides, and it encompasses most of the busy spots in Phoenix. Personally, it’s the areas I preferred to drive since that’s where the action (and quick rides) was.

Notably, the airport is not in ‘city center’, which all Phoenix drivers should find interesting given Uber’s contentious battle with the City of Phoenix/Arizona right now…

But overall – a lot depends on how Uber is going to define your city center, if your city is affected by the pilot program.

Strategies for the City Center Earnings Pilot Program

On one hand, this is just a pilot in select cities and there’s no guarantee it will remain or expand. Uber is not just experimenting with driver earnings, but also passenger preferences.

So what can drivers in these affected cities do? Here are our strategies for riding out this pilot program:

  1. Use your destination filters! No, destination filters aren’t perfect, but they’ll be pretty useful for drivers in this pilot program. Use your destination filters to get to your city center regardless of when you drive (morning, afternoon, night). Uber has made it clear this is where the demand is, and you might as well get a boost from it. When you’re in the city center, set your destination filter for far, far outside the city. When we’re moving, we’re making money – so try to get a far ride so you can get the 5% city center increase on a long fare out of town.
  2. Drive strategically – when do people in your city head downtown? In general, people are headed toward the city center in the morning, Friday and Saturday evenings, during the week for certain events, etc. Think strategically about your city and get used to finding out about the latest events happening in your city center. Position yourself there (or set your destination filter to capitalize on a ride into city center).
  3. If you are pulled outside of the city center or have to drive during times where fewer people are going downtown (think afternoons, lunch, etc.), consider driving for Uber Eats or another delivery or gig job. The key is to stay busy and earning money while on the road. If rates are cut by 10% outside of the city center, this means you really will need to look at delivery or another gig if that’s where you spend most of your time.

We don’t know how long this pilot program will last, but it will roll out slowly to all drivers in those 10 select cities on March 6. Drivers will be notified beginning today, so if you live in one of those ten cities, check your alerts and your email to see if you are one of the first to try out this new predictable surge.

Drivers, what do you think of this pilot program? Is it something that you would like to see in your city? Would a 5% bump in pay be worth it to drive downtown?

-Melissa @ RSG